2. Awareness of our faculties that leads to self-transcendence
When you were born, you were not aware of yourself, nor of the world in which you were born in. You must have had an undifferentiated consciousness, being one with your mother. But gradually you began to open up to the world of people and things in the measure that you began to have a differentiated consciousness, an “I” different from your mum and others. This process of differentiation took place through the personal contact that your mum, dad and others had with you. You began to name things in order to distinguish one from the other. You became familiar with people and things through the retention of memory and the subsequent recognition of them. Your journey as a fertilized egg towards what you are today has been a marvellous growth of knowing and relating with the world of people and things around you.
In this journey you have sometimes misjudged situations, collected hurts from your relationships and acquired self-defeating approaches towards the realities outside you. In short, your capacity to learn and grow through the various encounters in life may be handicapped or limited. . If you know the very process of knowing that enables you to have greater awareness of yourself, others and the world, you are better equipped to apply its rules to avoid misinterpretation of events and gain objective understanding of them. It can lead you to responsible action that springs from awareness and protect yourself from short-sighted impulsive reactions.
Sit relaxed… observe your breathing…. Now think of an impulsive action in the recent past… a behaviour that you are not proud of (shouting at some one, over reacting, blushing in public, saying a lie to escape embarrassment etc.). Observe the impact of the behaviour on your self- esteem and your sense of self….
Imagine a person you admire ( a known person, your founder, preferred saint, Jesus etc.) and place that person in your stead in the same situation and imagine how he/she would respond.
Now imagine yourself having that level of consciousness which would make you naturally respond with that same calibre of life.
If you want to make your resources work in favour of your integral growth and freedom, you have to know these gifts and their operations. Humans have a natural inclination to know what is true and good, to appropriate the good perceived and to commit oneself to meaningful goals. There are four levels in this process: senses, intelligence, critical judgement and decision and action. Each level moves you beyond yourself by means of those questions that naturally arise in you in each of these levels. Think of an accident scene to distinguish the four levels.
- At the level of senses, data is given to your consciousness (Question: What?). You hear the terrible noise of an explosion and a loud cry along a lonely road. You stop to look. You have the question “what?” in your mind. You go there to get a better look.
- At the level of intelligence, we connect the data to meaningful hypothesis (Question: What, when, why and how?). You see the damaged front of the car, people bleeding and crying in agony. Many thoughts cross your mind… maybe it was an act of terrorism, break failure… who are these people? They seem to be foreigners or tourists… Whether they are in need of help… etc.
- At the level of critical judgement, we test the hypothesis against the data to form judgements of truth and value. ( Question: Is it really true? Is it truly good?). As you try to make sense of what happened and what is to be done, you affirm that the situation is critical and you need to do something to help the people in the accident.
- At the level of decision and action, we decide and act by use of the will. (What shall I do?). You deliberate various courses of action… may be to call ambulance, call out to people for help, help the victims to stop bleeding and do first aid. You shout out for help, rush for emergency help and then call for an ambulance. Maybe you decide to speed away to save yourselves if you interpret the loud sound and cry for help as part of a shootout and judge it to be true.
Your limitations at each of these levels can undermine a meaningful understanding, judgement and action with regard to the situation. For example, you may interpret the silence of a companion as his resentment to you on a day you performed a program for the community, but actually he was worried about some sad news he had received from home.
Now we shall look into each of the levels more closely.
2.1 Sense experience that provides you with data for knowledge.
You have both external senses and internal senses that provide data for your consciousness.
- External senses: They open your doors to what is outside of you through the mediation of your senses.
- Your eyes see what is outside in colours or black and white; in two or three dimensions; at a distance or close up; as clear or vague, as a whole or in details.
- Your ears hear loud or soft, far or near, melodious of rough; different kinds of sounds.
- Your skin feels touch as soft or hard, rough or smooth, feathery, watery, weighty or light
- You experience taste: as sweet, bitter, sour…. Various other tastes
- Your olfactory senses smell different odours.
Have you been consciously in touch with these wonderful gifts of life?
Take a walk around your room or in the courtyard and see all that you can see. Just observe and see what you see without any judgement. Colours, dimensions, details.
Close your eyes and hear all the sounds available to your hearing from far and near. Just listen.
Feel the touch of your cloths on your skin, your weight on the chair… walk with the feel of your feet on the ground, movement of your limbs as you walk. Just experience it.
Feel the tongue in mouth and move around. Feel the taste of saliva.
Try to be aware of the smell of different things close to you.. clothing, things, flowers etc.
Be fully present to your senses and spend a few moments in a prayer of acceptance and gratitude.
Take a fruit or a sweet (orange, apple, mango etc.) and use all your senses to experience the event of seeing it, hear the sound of opening it, feel the touch, smell and taste and with a sense of gratitude consume it slowly with awareness.
Remain a few minutes in gratitude.
Both exercises may look simple and even silly. But if you do it with awareness you will see a new world opening up to you. The core of the event is that you know that you are experiencing it. The subject of the experience is you, and you are aware of yourself experiencing the workings of your senses. You not only enjoy the fruit or the sweet, you enjoy your enjoymen
pen your skills for observation by finding as many faces as possible in the following picture:
Cultivate the habit of observing what is around you and within you.
The master does it with awareness
A young business man wanted to learn the art of maintaining calmness. He thought it would enhance his business as well as his health. He met a sage who allowed him to stay with him for a few days. At the end of a week, the young man got so bored and complained to another in the Ashram, “I don’t see anything special about your master. He does the very things I do. He eats, talks, prays”. “Yes you do”, replied the Ashramite, “ but there is a difference. The master does everything with awareness”.
It is also important to be aware of the limitations of the senses. You can be deceived by them. Your senses may have provided only partial data. What you see or hear is conditioned by the functioning of your sense organs. For example, a food that is very delicious to you may be repulsive to another. We can be conditioned by past sense experiences and perceptions in the reception of new data.
Here is an example of visual illusion.
Steadily fix your gaze on the light bulb for 30 seconds. Try not to avert your gaze. Then turn your gaze to the white area on the right of the bulb…..do it.
You should see a glowing light bulb! Why? What do you learn from this exercise?
The background of a thing or an event influences the perception of it. Here is an exercise where you are visually deceived by the background of the circles in the foreground.
Look intently at the centre of the circle and move your head back and forth towards the circle. Do you see the inner circle rotating?
Is the circle curved? You are mistaken. It is a perfect circle. Your eyes can deceive you at times!
- 1)Your Internal senses:
They provide data for awareness from what is stored in the mind through the faculties of
memory, intuition and imagination
You have memory of past events and past feelings. You are the owner of a big memory bank where you have deposited the vast wealth of your past experiences!
Intuitions: You have convictions that you have collected from your experiences. In many life situations you have a gut feelings as to how to proceed.
Imagination: you have the capacity to create the world with the images available in your memory bank. For example, you can visualize your barren backyard as a wonderful vegetable garden and work towards creating it.
Sit or lie down and relax. Close your eyes. Just observe your breathing calmly. It will relax you. Bring to your mind your childhood… Remember the details that you can imagine.. the shape of the house, surroundings, inside rooms.. and the different people at home and the emotions that come to you as you remember..
Then become aware of your present condition… the room that you are in, posture, those who surround you, your physical state….
Now imagine your future in 5 years, 10 years. Imagine yourself as a missionary in your preferred ministry… the way you might appear, behave and the people’s response to you.
Next imagine yourself flying in the sky with two powerful wings…
.. then like a fish swimming in the depth of the sea.
Now imagine yourself in a far mission which you longed to be.. may be in China, in Ghana…
Become aware of the faculties that you used.. your memory, imagination.
Remain a few minutes in gratitude.
You have gone to the past, the present, the future, to the heights, the depths, to far and near… all without moving from your place. You see, changes in the world began in the mind. What is not conceived in the mind cannot be created.
But you can be obsessed with certain fantasies and imaginations that can disrupt your peace. The more you try to push it away, the stronger it may become.
Close your eyes for 30 seconds and try not to imagine a white Elephant. Could you succeed?Why or why not?
The more you mentally fight against a thought, the more it gets strengthened. What are some of the obsessive thoughts that plague your mind? How do you deal with them?
The above exercises show that there are many factors that affect the capacity of observation and consequently reduce the quantity of data available to the consciousness. What is not observed cannot become part of your conscious processing. Poor eye sight, slow hearing, dim light conditions, poor memory etc. can impose limitations in the acquisition of data. In the same way internal influences also affect our perception of data. For example, a depressive state may induce poor attention to positive aspects of life. Paranoid persons observe things in minute details and give neurotic meaning to them. Your memory can betray what you honestly affirm about an event. For example, you vividly remember that you had given your key to a friend before leaving your house, while it was actually dropped in your letter box. In the past you had at times entrusted your key to your friend. Your memory of it got confused with the present event.
You can improve your skills of observation by practice. Hence learn to be alert. “He who has eyes, let him see”.